Note from Jason: Berit is a teacher at my daughters’ school. I had no idea that any of this had happened but then, why would I? Berit approached me and offered to share her story because she felt it was time. I’m so grateful that she has chosen to do this. Her courage will touch the lives of many people and show them we don’t need to be afraid any more. Thank you Berit.
This is my story. The story that has shaped me into the person I am today. The story that has opened my eyes to both life’s terrible darkness and immense light.
This is the story of how I was awakened out of my dreamlike childhood and into cold, hard reality. During the first ten years of my childhood I felt like I lived in paradise. I grew up on traditional farms. My parents worked the earth with their hands and their horses. I was surrounded by animals, nature, sunsets and such beauty that filled me with reverence for life and for the earth. I attended a nurturing school that fostered my awe and wonder for beauty and magic. And then, when I was around ten years old, the sky came crashing down and my heart began to fill up with fear and pain. It was at that time that my mother met a new man. Her new man moved in with us while my father was still living in our home for another year. My world slowly sank into a nightmare and, for many years to come, I saw no way out.
One night, as he pulled into the garage and the lights went dark, he grabbed me, leaned over and started kissing me…kissing me in a way I knew nothing about. I was eleven years old and he was my pregnant mother’s boyfriend. My dad had just recently moved out. I can still remember the smell of his beard and his breath, and the feeling of his lips and his tongue. And, just like that first time, I was frozen in shock every time he would come to me when no one was around. To this day I don’t really have the words to describe the feelings I had as a little girl, during those moments when my body was violated and my soul wrung out. It was a feeling of being sick to my stomach, of being scared and ashamed and a feeling of guilt. I felt helpless and, inside, I was crying out for someone, anyone to walk in and save me. I felt like I was turned to stone and couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I could only pray. I would wake up in the middle of the night to him sitting on my bed, touching my body in places that I myself had yet to barely know. He would stay for what seemed a really long time. I would shut my lips tightly in an attempt to say “no”, as my limbs seemed to lose all feeling and ability to follow command. Eventually I could no longer sleep. I would lay awake in anxious alertness wishing to have the superpower to make myself invisible. I wished that my mother would come looking and find him.
Every day the family continued life as usual and every day I lived with my secret. After a couple of years into the abuse, he had one of his common fits of rage and everyone left the house except for me and my older brother. It was then that I told my brother what this man had been doing to me. Only a kid himself, my brother felt sick and didn’t know whose trust he should doubt. His sister’s or his future stepdad’s? After all this is the man that had become everyone’s best friend. After that, I finally opened up to my best friend and shared my secret with her. We were thirteen years old and didn’t know what to do, so we both just cried. She went to our teacher and told him what had been happening to me. Our teacher sat me down to talk. It was one of the hardest conversations I ever had in my life. I was ashamed of each word I had to use to describe what this man had done to me. My body was shaking and I felt like my life was going to come crumbling down. When my mother pulled over the car, and wouldn’t leave until I told her what I had told my teacher, the words were even harder to choke out. I knew her world was crashing at that moment.
What followed was sad and frightening. This man somehow convinced my mother that I wasn’t able to deal with my father moving out and, as a result, was taking it out on him with these “made up stories”. I fell back into a hole of ghostly nights, feeling more alone than ever before. He would continue to visit me at night. He would grab me in broad daylight as if it was completely normal for him to have sexual interactions with me. I started to completely withdraw and I stopped speaking to him all together. By doing this, I noticed he would leave me alone for some time. This was how I coped with the situation. I completely ignored him and this allowed me to make it through another day without the abuse. But this treatment angered him. My mother had many talks with me about how I needed to show respect and that I couldn’t just ignore a family member, as it was making it awkward for everyone else. They didn’t know I had to survive in this way. I would try, for some time, to act normal.
I distinctly remember being on vacation with the family in a beautiful mountain village when I was about fourteen years old. I remember acknowledging a feeling inside of me that I had not felt in a long time: a desire to live. I just had to keep living. For me. For the beauty there was in the world. For the dreams I had of the woman I wanted to become. I wanted to be a woman of virtue, I wanted to be a mother and, I wanted to be a beloved wife. I have always felt that there was a force greater than nature and the physical world. I found comfort and hope in knowing that there was something bigger than this place.
When my mother got married to him, my teacher, the one that had heard my testimony, was the witness to their marriage. He had everyone on his side, everyone I had told about the abuse, from my brother and mother to my teacher. At that same time the Canadian Embassy delivered a letter I dreaded. A letter giving my mother approval for immigration. I was fifteen years old when I packed all my belongings to leave my country, my school, my friends, my father, my stepmother and two siblings behind. My future lay across the ocean in a different culture with a new language and just six familiar people. The same people that I silently called out to for help over and over again, but could not be heard. Today I know it was not their fault. They all did the best they could do. I prayed for help every day. I filled dozens of journals as a way of processing and “talking”, without needing other people.
I soon started noticing that my little sister’s door was sliding shut behind him. I felt more panic. I don’t know how I found the courage, but I opened the door and stood in the doorway. Maybe I thought I could scare him away like garlic to a vampire. But the vampire thrived. The first years in Canada are a blur to me, but there were increased outbursts of anger from him, holes punched in walls and strict regulations about every detail that he ruled over in the household. There were talks from my mother about making an effort to be polite for the family’s sake. There were family meetings where he would blame me for being the reason for our family’s disharmony. My life was mostly spent in my room. My door would still slide open when it was dark. His smell would linger as I lay awake with no way to fall back asleep in the middle of the night.
Slowly, I once again, started opening up to the people in my life I held nearest and dearest. Every time I talked about the abuse my body would shake violently, I would get ice-cold hands and I would stutter. My throat closed up and my heart ached.
The loud night-time fighting between him and my mother finally stopped when he moved out. And with that, the abuse ended. I can’t remember exactly how and when I decided to go to the police, but I remember driving myself to the station. I gave my statement to a lady that listened to every word, in a windowless room. About two years later the crown brought my case to the court. After hours of testimony the end result was a loophole where he got away with some minor charges as the major ones were washed away into a black hole. But, when my two sisters later told their stories, he left the country.
To be continued…